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Eric Neel Takes Us To Dodgertown's Blue Heaven

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ESPN's Eric Neel moved back home to Los Angeles recently and LA is already seeing the rewards. In a special site "Blue Heaven" launched this week over at, Neel has collaborated with photographer Gary Bogdon on a beautifully done photo essay + slideshow + narrative of the Dodgers' historic spring training facility in Dodgertown, Florida which the ballclub will leave in two years.

As the photos appear and disappear revealing the carefree ease of the Vero Beach lifestyle, it almost feels like a solemn speech given by an old friend at a wake as Neel takes us through nearly 60 years of Dodgertown history in just a brief few minutes.

Built on an abandoned naval base in 1948, Dodgertown has seen almost all of the Dodger greats from Koufax and Robinson to Drysdale and Fernando. Maury Wills and Tommy Lasorda still suit up and keep the tradition alive but now that the Dodgers have decided to leave their sacred spring home to a more modern complex in Glendale, Arizona, it's difficult to watch this presentation and not think that something big is about to die.

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LAist was lucky enough to email Neel some questions about Blue Heaven, and this is what he emailed back:

LAist: How did you come about making a multi-media photo essay slash slide show?

Eric Neel: We wanted something that would feel like place, that would be its own environment. At one point we were thinking of a standard gallery and essay pairing, but so much of what makes the place appealing — angles of light, sounds that seem to echo down the generations, smiles on old lions faces — seemed to demand something more evocative than that. So we started experimenting with form until we hit on something that felt close to the resonances of the place.

The Dodgers used to be a team that embraced tradition. Should we be seeing something deeper in the Dodgers leaving Dodgertown thats symbolic to the 21st century team?

I think the team still embraces tradition. I think the current management and ownership understands the importance of history to the team and to the fans. What’s happened is that the history itself is shifting. This year marks the first year the Dodgers will have been in Los Angeles longer than they were in Brooklyn. The team will always have Brooklyn in its bones, but it’s a truly LA thing now and into the future. The real base, the growing base, is in the west. There are loyal fans out here who’ve never had the chance to experience spring training, who’ve never had the chance to revel in the run-up.

Was it difficult getting the rights to those sweet pictures or does ESPN have tons of that stuff?

Gary Bogdon, a stellar photographer, and I spent several days down in Vero this month. Gary shot hundreds and hundreds of great shots. The Dodgers were very generous with old-time images. Dodgertown is full of old photos; they line the walls of the offices, the old clubhouse building, etc. The past is always present. We shot stills of some things right off the wall, and some other pics the team had in a digital archive.

You grew up in Lakewood / Long Beach - so were you more of an Angels or Dodger fan?

I was a Dodgers fan from the jump. My grandfather, a stoic transplanted Iowa farmer, loved to listen to Vin Scully on his radio in the kitchen or the garage. I was about five years old and we were living with my grandparents after my mom and dad got divorced. I sat at his knee, handing him dishes and tools and such, and bathed in the blue. He took me to my first games, too. We sat in the right field pavilions. I fell in love with Willie Crawford. I became an Angels fan a little later, and became a big Angels fan when our mutual friend Matt Welch and his dad took a bunch of us to games in high school.

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Does the Grapefruit League even stand a chance of surviving with so many teams moving to Zona?

I think it does. Florida still makes sense for the Yanks, Sox, Mets, and such. Those teams are going to generate lots of buzz and revenue every spring. The Florida facilities need some sprucing up, but they’re not dying out any time soon. And besides, AZ is pretty close to maxed out, I think, space and money-wise. It makes sense for the Dodgers because they have a ready-made audience eager to jet from LA for the weekend, but it wouldn’t make sense for the big teams from the east I don’t think...

Go to Blue Heaven

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